NEW PORT RICHEY — Melissa Moore watched the fly ball from the on-deck circle. It should have scored a run and put her team in front, but a base-running blunder kept things tied, so with two outs Moore came to the plate hoping to change that.
On a night where River Ridge managed to hit its hardest balls foul, Moore blooped one into fair territory. It scored two runs to put River Ridge on the road to a 4-1 victory over Nature Coast in a Class 5A quarterfinal Thursday.
Moore’s single to left in the fifth inning scored Madisyn Palmer and Morgan Tolle to break a 1-all tie, and her hustle to second base forced an errant throw that let her come all the way around to score as the Royal Knights (26-3) broke open a tight game.
“There’s always extra pressure with two outs,” said Moore, River Ridge’s third baseman, “but I just try to treat it like any at-bat.”
Moore’s hit extended Ernie Beck’s coaching career. The longtime River Ridge coach is retiring at the end of the year. But he knew when Nature Coast (22-5) took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Chyloe Gonzalez’s triple and a sacrifice fly by Courtney David it probably wasn’t going to be enough to send him fishing and golfing.
“We lose 1-0? That’s just not us,” Beck said.
For a while, though, it looked possible. NCT freshman Alyssa Gonzalez befuddled the Knights through four innings with her off-speed stuff, but she gave up a leadoff single to No. 9 hitter Allysa Lyons to start the fifth. After a sacrifice bunt walked Palmer and Tolle to load the bases, it prompting a pitching change.
Freshman Abbey Primavera’s first pitch in relief was wild, tying the score. Makenzie Goluba then hit a fly ball that should have scored a run, but didn’t, and Moore made it a moot point with her winner.
Goluba, who had a streak of 26 straight scoreless innings snapped, retired the last six batters, two on a nifty leaping catch by shortstop Kenzi Maguire, who threw to first to double off the runner. She allowed three hits and struck out five.
The win sets up a third meeting with Hernando in the region semifinals. The teams split their previous two games.
5A: Leopards ace steady as usual
BROOKSVILLE — After returning most of its roster from last season’s region final appearance, Hernando came into this postseason with something to prove.
The journey began with a 3-1 victory over Dunedin in Thursday night’s Class 5A region quarterfinal at Tom Varn Park.
“There were a lot of what ifs after last year (in the region final),” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said, “but we’ve proven ourselves time and time again against tough competition.”
Courtney Riddle (26-1) was masterful on the mound for the home team, tossing a complete-game three-hitter with no earned runs, no walks and three strikeouts. And although the Leopards (26-2) committed three errors, one of which resulted in the Falcons’ lone run, the senior ace controlled the tempo of the game.
“(Courtney) did a good job of working ahead and locating her pitches,” Bittinger said. “They have some pretty decent hitters and she kept them off-balance, just like she’s done all year.”
Riddle’s counterpart, Dunedin ace Aubrey Ehlers (16-6), was almost as good against the Hernando lineup. The hurler had only one shaky inning, when the Leopards had four straight two-out hits to score three runs in the third.
Ehlers retired Kaylee Frascatore and Lauren Moore to start the inning before No. 9 hitter Erika Lewis slapped a single. Megan Lane followed by lining a two-strike pitch back up the middle for a single. Danielle Harvey knocked in Lewis with a single, and senior captain
Tana McDaniel capped the scoring with a two-run double in the right-centerfield gap.
After a hit by pitch and an error, Dunedin (17-7) scored when Central Florida State College signee Tiona Hill hit a bloop single over first base. Hill will join Riddle at the collegiate level next season, with both signing to the same school.
Hernando advances to Tuesday’s region semifinal against River Ridge. The Leopards and Royal Knights split their two games this season.
“If you’re going to play River Ridge, you have to ready to play ball,” Bittinger said. “They have some unbelievably talented hitters, so you have to pick your battles.”
Derek J. LaRiviere, Times correspondent